We have been reading about Father Guigues in recent letters, so let us pause to find out more about this extraordinary Oblate missionary.
Born in 1805, he was too young to make his oblation after his novitiate, and had to wait until his 18thbirthday to do so. Ordained a priest at the age of 23, he did several ministries in Aix and Notre Dame du Laus until in 1834 when he became the first superior and pastor of Notre-Dame de l’Osier. Through his considerable abilities he was able to restore that place of pilgrimage materially and spiritually.
In 1844 he was sent to Canada as superior of the Oblates who had first arrived there three years before and were badly in need of better organization. It was he who did this and who sent the Missionaries further inland where there was great need. Three years later, he was appointed Bishop of Bytown the town which would later be called Ottawa.
Gaston Carriere describes him and his achievements:
“When he arrived he found an unfinished cathedral, three stone churches and about fifteen wooden chapels. Seven diocesan priests and seven Oblates constituted the clergy of the diocese. He immediately got down to work and, at his death, there were 67 churches, 48 chapels and number of schools. He then had 53 diocesan priests and 37 Oblates.
Education for young people was one of his primary concerns. In September 1848 he opened a college and a major seminary in Bytown. In 1856 he built a new college in stone on the site of what is today the University of Ottawa. Father Joseph Tabaret was appointed superior. The direction of the college was entrusted to the Oblates who retained it until 1965.
Bishop Guigues was perspicacious. He immediately perceived the special bilingual character of his diocese and he facilitated it in ministry and teaching. He was also very active in providing Catholic schools and he fought long and hard to obtain justice for Catholics and for French Canadians. He offered a free course in the college in Ottawa “to complete studies and obtain the necessary qualifications for teaching
Bishop Guigues was a friend of the poor and the abandoned… A kind and amenable person, Bishop Guigues possessed a rare energy and he had the ability to surmount obstacles to achieve his purpose. He was a very simple man and, until the end of his life, he continued to fulfil the tasks of pastor or assistant priest. He was faithful to the confessional in his cathedral and he often preached and visited the sick. Each year he did the round of his diocese and these visits became real retreats during which the bishop was available to all.”